On the 17th January 2023, The British Academy of Interior Design broadcast the first in its series of “Inspiring Creative Entrepreneurs” where Sarah Beeny sat down with host Alex Russell to share her wealth of knowledge on property and interior design. Sarah is a household name across Britain and Ireland having spent decades on tv screens sharing her passion for property and design. Some students and tutors had prepared questions which Sarah graciously and generously answered.
Here is a slightly abridged version of the conversation which, as you will read, is bursting with expert advice and insight.
0:07 - Interviewer:
Hello and welcome. My name is Alex Russell. I have a background in architecture and today I'm very happy to be talking to property and renovations aficionado, Sarah Beeny. Hello Sarah. So welcome to the British Academy of Interior Design. Our students are absolutely fascinated by the fact that you began your own company at just 24. So, can you tell us a bit more about that journey?
0:33 - Sarah Beeny:
I understood building a bit because my dad was an architect, so I've been around building sites and he built our home and then I wanted to have my own business because I kind of wanted a job where the harder you work the better you do, and I quite like dealing and I'm really interested in how people live. I was also really interested in the concept of home and what it means to different people. You know, our homes and our interiors do affect how we feel and, you know, that's the truth of it. You know, if you have a home that functions really well then, it's easier to live in it and it's less stressful.
1:15 - Interviewer:
What advice would you give to new designers while looking to set up their own business and how could they compete with established designers?
1:24 - Sarah Beeny:
It's very boring, but keep taking photos, so that you've got something to show what you've done. And I mean, obviously always check with your clients but, get your collateral so that people know what you can achieve, and check with people first before you use it obviously if you end up going down one particular route, always be open to maybe just chucking in something completely different so that you've got more on your portfolio to show that you can be diverse. But it's easier because if you do keep work down one route, you probably, the reality is you get better at that look because each time you'll learn something and you'll gather more, you know, momentum in that direction.
2:05 - Interviewer:
What are your thoughts on social media? Using social media to, to share your work, you know, to get it out there?
2:12 - Sarah Beeny:
Yeah, social media is really important, but it's also really quite toxic. I truly believe that you can't do anything really creative and have massive social media presence. I wouldn't say you need to keep posting videos, you don't need to tell your life story. It's a portfolio. It's more, to me, I would say treat it more like a brochure.
2:33 - Interviewer:
In your latest series, little house, big plans, you help people who want to renovate small living areas. What advice would you give to a designer who has to work with a very small space?
2:45 - Sarah Beeny:
To me it's mainly about engineering. That's where, that's where it all starts. Because the smaller the space, the cleverer and harder it has to work. And, I guess, so multi spaces, that can be two things and they can swap round quite easily. In a way design is how it looks, and engineering is more how it functions. But I guess it's all designed isn't it, in a way.
We then introduced some questions that our tutors and students were buzzing to ask. This was a rare and unique opportunity to pick the brain of an industry professional who has enjoyed decades of success both on and off the screen.
3:10 - Interviewer:
Some of our students and tutors have prepared some questions for you. Are you okay to answer a few of them?
3:16 - Sarah Beeny:
Yes. Carry on.
3:17 - Interviewer:
Here's Mikol with the first question.
3:20 - Mikol:
Hi Sarah. We all know that sometimes what a client is asking for may not be the best solution for their brief. What advice can you offer to encourage a client towards a specific idea or style?
3:31 - Sarah Beeny:
Ooh, that's <laugh>. That's really hard. In my experience, they generally come round when you point out the logic for your thoughts, that's probably the easiest way. You can never say, you can never ever use the word taste. I think that's my opinion, and you can't say because I like it or because it's good taste because that's not an argument because it's so subjective. You have to put a logical argument.
3:59 - Interviewer:
The next question is from Jack.
4:02 - Jack:
What tips can you offer new designers on how to get your foot in the door, either with building clientele or working in the industry?
4:09 - Sarah Beeny:
You need to get your first design under your belt, but make sure you network. I mean, most of all the architects and designers that I've met, 99.9 are really lovely, lovely, lovely creative people. There's a great world out there and we, you know, everyone should work together rather than trying to work independently. Getting your name out there, you, you have to do it, you've got to design to get your name out there, but I probably suggest that you work underneath somebody who's quite well known initially.
4:43 - Interviewer:
Now we have a question from Gabby.
4:46 - Gabby:
Hi Sarah. What's your best advice on how to communicate to a client that something has gone wrong with the project?
4:55 - Sarah Beeny:
It's being, you have to be honest, along the way. The one thing that's absolutely certain is that no, I mean, no one likes bad news, but the thing that's worse than anything else is saving it up because you can't quite face the situation and then ending up with a massive amount of bad news down the line. So, communication, communication, communication is the best way to avoid falling out or any other difficulty. Just don't store up bad news.
5:28 - Interviewer:
Good advice. And now we go back to Mikol with another question.
5:33 - Mikol:
How do new designers build confidence in their design choices?
5:38 - Sarah Beeny:
Taking risks and getting it wrong and learning from that I guess is probably how you build confidence and then get it, you get it right. You, you actually get more confidence from getting it wrong than getting it right, which is kind of weird, I think in life. You'll know when you see it though, won't you in a way you, but then some things you don't ever know. I spent years looking for pink. This is all one of my kind of goals. I really wanted pink because I love the colour of plaster. Plaster isn't one colour; it's loads and loads of colour and it's got depth to it. So, you can't get a paint the same colour as plaster because it's not one colour. It's like purple. There's a lovely colour, purple's amazing in fabric and clothes and absolutely terrible as an interior wall colour. It's just, unless you're trying to create a, I don’t know, it would work in a theatre or something.
6:32 - Interviewer:
Gabby has another question for you.
6:35 - Gabby:
What would a brand-new designer who you have never worked with before have to do to convince you they could design your home?
6:43 - Sarah Beeny:
I probably need to see, uh, what they'd done before. So, you know, it would, I'd need to see images of what they'd done. Still photos and real life aren't necessarily the same and that's kind of hard. So, I would probably, if I'd seen what someone had done before, that would probably be the size of it.
7:08 - Interviewer:
Yeah. Final question from Rute.
7:12 - Rute:
What advice would you give to an interior designer who is designing a showhouse?
7:18 - Sarah Beeny:
To me, try not to get everything from one place because it looks like a showhouse. Personally. I think if you're going to design a showhouse, you want it to not look like a showhouse. You want it to look like someone's home, and so I would say try to avoid all the standard showhouse tricks. And let's be honest, we live in a world where we've done terrible things to the environment. We don't need any more new stuff. There is enough that exists out there to be able to design a show home and use everything that already exists second-hand. You don't have to buy more stuff. There is so much stuff out there that you can get from auctions or car boots, sales or charity shops and used cleverly. You can make it look utterly fabulous and look like that show home has evolved over the last 25 years and then people will really feel at home.
8:10 - Interviewer:
Do you think they can go too far?
8:12 - Sarah Beeny:
Yeah, very much so. I think that remembering that you are not the client and it's not your personal kind of ego trip is really important because yeah, it's, it's not about you, it's about them.
Finally, the conversation ended with a quickfire round of questions. Although fun, there is much to be learned from the answers Sarah provided.
8:26 - Interviewer:
Thank you very much indeed for answering our students and tutors’ questions. We'd like to finish with a quickfire end if that's okay with you.
8:34 - Sarah Beeny:
8:35 - Interviewer:
Okay, here we go. Stone or wood?
8:37 - Sarah Beeny:
8:38 - Interviewer:
Paint or wallpaper?
8:40 - Sarah Beeny:
8:41 - Interviewer:
Do it yourself or hire professionals?
8:43 - Sarah Beeny:
8:45 - Interviewer:
A view or lighting?
8:46 - Sarah Beeny:
8:47 - Interviewer:
Tear it down or rescue it?
8:49 - Sarah Beeny:
8:51 - Alex the Interviewer:
Form or function?
8:53 - Sarah Beeny:
8:54 - Alex the Interviewer:
Stairs or bungalow?
8:55 - Sarah Beeny:
8:56 - Alex the Interviewer:
Garden or terrace?
8:58 - Sarah Beeny:
9:01 - Alex the Interviewer:
Storage space or open plan?
9:02 - Sarah Beeny:
9:04 - Alex the Interviewer:
Attic or basement?
9:05 - Sarah Beeny:
9:05 - Alex the Interviewer:
pantry or kitchen island?
9:06 - Sarah Beeny:
9:07 - Alex the Interviewer:
Dining room or playroom?
09:08 - Sarah Beeny:
9:09 - Alex the Interviewer:
Glass partitions or no partitions?
9:10 - Sarah Beeny:
9:13 - Alex the Interviewer:
Bath or shower?
9:14 - Sarah Beeny:
9:16 - Alex the Interviewer:
Black or white?
9:17 - Sarah Beeny:
9:19 - Alex the Interviewer:
That was brilliant. On behalf of the academy, thank you so much Sarah. Best of luck for future projects and I'm sure all our students learned immensely from your expertise and your insight.
9:30 - Sarah Beeny:
Thank you so much. Thanks for your time.
We hope you enjoyed this conversation with Sarah Beeny? All new designers are excited about bringing fresh new ideas to the table, and while that is part of the ever-evolving world of Interior Design, it would be wise to listen to the wisdom of those who came before us. There is much to be learned from a professional with experience that spans decades.